The Arizona Wildcats seemed out of sync at times, but still beat the Grambling State Tigers 74-55 on Friday to open the 2020-21 season.
Jordan Brown and James Akinjo each had 19 points in their UA debut. Brown also had 15 rebounds, completing his second career double-double. The Wildcats shot 38 percent from the field and made 15 turnovers.
Our recap of the game can be found here. This is what the head coach Sean Miller had to say after. Her full interview can be viewed at the end of this story.
Miller’s takeaways: “We obviously have a very long way to go. I think it’s obvious if you look at us. This is what it is, however. I mean, when you have as much change, year-over-year turnover like we did, so many new and young faces, and players who haven’t played college basketball for a while like Jordan Brown, it’s gonna take a while. And I’m glad we were able to win the game here, above all. I thought Jordan Brown was exceptional. I don’t care who we play or where the game is played, if you can get 19 points and 15 rebounds, including 13 defensive rebounds in 32 minutes, that’s quite an effort. I congratulate Jordan because he is one of the hardest workers on our team. He has worked very, very hard over the past year and a half and it really showed today. I thought he was the best player on our team.
Miller on Akinjo: “I thought James Akinjo had a lot of good times. There were times he has to learn from. Again, he hasn’t played in a while, but the two of those players for us tonight really stood out. And that’s something we have to build on. James also has an inner confidence that our team needs. Again, I thought he had a great time tonight. We asked him to play most of the game (38 minutes) and I wish I could have given him a break, but Jemarl Baker was in such a situation that we just wanted to keep James on the pitch because of his experience. And I thought it was running out a bit as we continued to play it nonstop. But I mean 19 points, it was 4 for 9 of 3, James invested a ton of time in his shot. I think he’s an improved shooter and more than able to get through nights like he did here tonight. But James Akinjo and Jordan Brown both had very good games.
On the guard game: “I thought that one of the things that really stood out tonight was that we tried to keep it simple for our young players and we have to allow Benn Mathurin to play both so that we can have a training of Benn (Mathurin ). with Dalen Terry. They could play together but it’s usually when you get little. Allowing Benn to play a couple 2s, tonight you saw Jemarl in trouble and without Kerr (Kriisa)… we almost needed another guard, but that’s the problem just with the way it is. You can only do a limited number of things, so we’re going to try to implement that in our style and let Benn have maybe more opportunities in this shooting guard post, more than we have so far. ‘now.
On the Statute of Crisis: “Kerr will be back as soon as his championship tournament is over with Estonia. If he was eligible to play he wouldn’t have left us to participate with the national team, but since he is not eligible to play at the moment I thought it was fair to him and his family and for Estonia, the country. We allow our players to play on USA Basketball and give them a chance. Kerr also deserves his own opportunity so we let him go. But he will be back in early December, at the end of his tournament. He ends the semester like all of our players and that’s the other part – our college life right now is on Zoom and you can really do that anywhere, which also led to us allowing him to return to play for his country because academically he’s able to do really the same things at home that he could do here in Tucson. But we are delighted to see him again. We hope he can be eligible to play. He’s a big part of our team, he’s a very good shooter, playmaker, that gives us more depth.
On Terrell Brown, who had two points and seven assists: “He’s a very good defensive player, he almost feels like he has a second or third leader on the pitch. I thought he made two or three big passes tonight. You have seven assists and two turnovers, that’s fine. He didn’t score tonight, but he’ll be fine in this area. We need him to be a great playmaker and a great defensive player, to take some of the burden off Jemarl, some of the burden on James. Terrell gives us depth in the point guard if James is out. Terrell is more than capable of being our point guard. He does this almost every day, so I thought he was showing some good stuff tonight and something he can build from.
On coaching with a mask and in a McKale center without a ventilator: “It’s very, very strange. You don’t know it until you’ve walked it through, but being someone who has watched this type of event only on TV, it doesn’t look so different to the viewer at home. But for the participants, for the players, the coaches, the officials, it is very different. Surreal, really. The mask is what it is. Sometimes you can’t breathe when you have it. It’s terrible, but that’s what we’re all forced to do and I thought I had done a good job keeping this up tonight. We will see. “
On Christian Koloko who passes 3 for 8 on the ground: “He had nine rebounds in 22 minutes, including five offensive rebounds, which I found exceptional. But Christian is a young player. I didn’t think he approached the game with great confidence. He’s one of the best defenders on our team. He struggled tonight in this area. We need him to be better, we need him to be more confident. We need him to be more aggressive. We started it because he is one of the top five players on our team. He had a really good fall, but I didn’t think the way he trained was necessarily postponed into tonight’s season opener. But you have to understand how young he is, how inexperienced he is. He’s going to keep improving, I have no doubt, but we need him to be better and I think he will.